Higher Level Thinking: Collecting and Oorganizing Data by Bob Valiant



In the introduction to thinking skills article “HIGHER-LEVEL THINKING SKILLS: BECOMING A SKILLED THINKER”, we discuss three classes of thinking strategies: gathering, assessing or considering, and applying data. In this article we will focus on gathering data.

Among the data-gathering skills, collecting and organizing the data are not often made explicit. Students need to learn to sift the relevant from the irrelevant and then organize into a useable format the data that has been collected.

Collecting Data

Observation is a direct method of data collection and is described in “The Skills of Observing.” Here we will be concerned with the collection of pertinent information from written sources (books, journals or the Internet), Interviews, surveys, recorded media, etc. Collecting information always begins with the question, “What do I need to know?”

Young children can begin practicing this skill by collecting information based on teacher-generated questions such as:

  • How did classmates get from home to school today?
  • What are the colors of the shoes children wore today?
  • What kinds of pets do the children have at home?
  • In the video, who are the main characters?
  • For each of the four food groups can you think of tastes, smells, colors of each?
  • As children grow older they might be asked to gather information from reference or library books or from the Internet. When presented with a problem, they might also need to ask themselves, “What do I need to know?”

  • Using our book on the Southern Hemisphere find three characteristics for each kind of penguin listed.
  • Plan an automobile trip to Phoenix, Arizona. Find three alternate routes and list the states you would travel through for each.
  • By the time students are in secondary school they should be able to gather information from nearly any source and should begin to evaluate the usefulness and relevancy of the data available. Here skills from the “assess-and-consider” group enter in as well. In real life, of course, we can seldom isolate the use of only one thinking skill.

  • Gather information regarding the beginnings of the Vietnam War from the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and our textbook. Rate the reliability of each and give your reasoning.
  • You are a police officer investigating an auto accident that resulted in a fatality. Who should you interview? Rate the reliability of each source on a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 is the most reliable.
  • Organizing Data

    Nothing is more frustrating than a huge pile of raw information. Without a way of organizing it, the collection, no matter how huge, is worthless. Students can begin to learn the skills of organization at an early age, but they will need lots of practice in the early stages.

  • Here is a tray of buttons. Sort them into piles according to the number of holes. Now sort each stack into colors.
  • Here are several strips of paper of different lengths. Arrange them in order from shortest to longest.
  • By the time students are in the intermediate grades students should begin to organize information they have collected into tables. Quantitative data can be shown in charts and graphs. Math and science commonly use such devices but they can also be used to display information from the social sciences, literature, and the arts.

  • Design a table to show the weather data we collected for the month of September.
  • After reading the story, make a bar graph to show the number of medals won by each of the characters in the track meet.
  • After placing one end of the filter paper in a dish of water, measure the distance traveled by the water in one-minute intervals. Create a line graph to show the relationship of time to distance traveled.
  • Secondary students should be able to carry this even further with more complex charts, graphs and tables.

  • Create a line graph depicting Union Army casualties during the Civil War. Indicate major battles on the time line.
  • On a map of the United States plot the path of Lewis and Clark on their return trip from the Pacific Ocean. Indicate dates of arrival at 10 significant points along the trail and include a brief account of the significance of each of the identified points.
  • Complete the experiment on chemical reaction rates. Plot the time as a function of temperature for this reaction.
  • Conclusion

    This paper is intended to stimulate the production of classroom ideas and provides only samples of the possibilities. Much more can be done with this topic if time allows. As an example, students can be taught the use of graphic organizers such as fish-bone diagrams, concept maps, and process patterns as a way to help them organize their data even as they collect it.


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